The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: MI6 was eternally grateful for my encrypted column

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT'S TIME TO come clean (dread phrase!). Over the years, quite a number of Fleet Street's inkiest scriveners have worked for our intelligence services. I trust I'm giving away no secrets when I reveal that I myself was first approached by MI6 when writing the "Cutting a Dash" column on Man About Town magazine in the early 1950s.

For the next 10 years, I sent my controllers vital messages through the apparently innocent medium of my award-winning column. These would mean little to the general reader, but to the boffins at MI6 they could spell life and death. For instance, if I applied the phrase "highly intelligent" to someone, it really meant "highly suspicious, possibly working for a foreign government, approach with caution, could well be armed". Looking back through my archives I note that I described Mr Rex Harrison, The Queen Mother, Mr (as he then was!) Norman St John Stevas and Miss Kathy Kirby all as "highly intelligent"; frankly, I see no reason to dissent from that judgement with hindsight.

Other codes were more enigmatic - to avoid detection by Moscow. For instance, the term "convivial", as in the sentence: "Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a convivial dinner party thrown by Her Grace the Duchess of Argyll", in fact meant "depraved and perverted", while the term "that most highly civilised of men" as in the sentence, "To Mayfair, where that most highly civilised of men, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, conducted the assembled company through a round of whist", was in fact code for "full Colonel in the KGB". Perhaps I should add at this juncture that "round of whist" is of course official MI6 terminology for a night of communistic sodomy and like-minded debauchery.

I was not operating alone. There were dozens of us. The great Marjorie Proops was a fully paid-up member of MI5; she used her Daily Mirror column to semaphore messages to her controllers for 30 years. "My penis is too small" was code for "A senior Cabinet Minister is a fully paid- up member of the Stasi". In these situations, "honesty is always the best policy" was code for "atomic weapon ready for collection soonest". And "For full address of the Marriage Guidance Council, see foot of page" was code for "The Deputy Features Editor is a CIA plant".

I have no wish to blow the cover of any present operatives, but I should pay tribute to the legendary "Godfrey Smith" (I must protect his real identity), who for the past 45 years has been sending vital information via his Sunday Times column. Adopting the unlikely persona of an overweight buffoon (the real "Godfrey Smith" is a spidery figure), this brilliant strategist uses ingenious codes, understood only by those who have worked 14 hours a day for two years getting to the bottom of his orotund prose style.

In the Smith lexicon, "tingle quotient" translates as "bomb at dawn"; "the immortal Wodehouse" means "have been unmasked: cyanide pills at the ready" and "hats off to the venerable Bard of Avon" means "enemy agent successfully eliminated: proceed as normal". Without "Godfrey Smith", it has been estimated that the Cold War might still be under way. One should remember, too, that on the very same morning that the Berlin Wall finally crumbled, the first paragraph of Smith's column read: "I forget, but was it not the legendary Dr Johnson - he of the Dictionary - who said that there is no tastier beast than a well-roasted hen-pheasant - or was it the irrepressible Muggeridge? A bottle of the fizzy stuff to the reader who can solve this muddlesome teaser!" It is now widely known that this passage was the trigger for the MI6 plants in East Berlin to begin hammering away at the first brick of that historic wall.

Who are my fellow operatives in the field today? My lips are sealed, for I would not wish to see them tied to a metal bed, gagged and tortured. Nevertheless, common courtesy forces me to pay tribute to Mr Richard Littlejohn, for the past 15 years the pseudonym of our mole Boris Spanletin, whose oft-repeated phrase, "You couldn't make it up!" is code for "am at present undergoing homosexual experimentation at the hands of an enemy agent. Please advise". Who knows where our freedom of speech would be without such doughty heroes?